Instant Runoff Bill Likely to Stall in Committee

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(Host) Backers of an instant runoff voting system say they’ll urge the Legislature to adopt their plan this year. The group says their strong success on Town Meeting Day in almost 50 communities sends a clear message to lawmakers.

Still, it appears that the proposal faces an uphill battle in the Statehouse. VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) According to the head of the Vermont League of Women Voters, Marge Gaskins, voters on Town Meeting Day have made it very clear that they do not want the Legislature to elect the next governor. Currently under the Vermont Constitution, if no candidate in a statewide race receives 50 % of the vote, the election is then decided by lawmakers by a secret ballot in January.

Several times in Vermont history legislators have elected candidates who did not win the popular vote. The most recent case is 1977 in the contest for lieutenant governor.

The League of Women Voters is part of a coalition of more than two dozen groups promoting the instant runoff plan. Under this proposal, voters would be able to list a second or third choice in a race.

If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, then the second place choices of the people who voted for candidates with the fewest votes would be tallied, instantly giving one of the top two candidates a majority of votes.

League President Gaskins says the results from the referendum show that the time has come to change Vermont’s election laws:

(Gaskins) “I think that people are just now understanding what it means to have multiple candidates and to turn their choice of candidate over to the Legislature to make. And I think prior to this, people really didn’t know what another solution might be.”

(Kinzel) Legislation implementing the instant runoff system is tied up in the Senate Government Operations Committee. Three members support it and three members oppose it.

Committee Chairman Bill Doyle, who does not support the proposal, is backing a plan to make the candidate who receives the most votes the winner of the election. He argues it’s a system that has worked well in many of Vermont’s congressional elections:

(Doyle) “Under the congressional model, most of us feel that Bob Stafford or Pat Leahy or Bernard Sanders or Peter Smith are legitimate candidates and have represented the people and all they have to do is be top vote getters.”

(Kinzel) Doyle says any legislation passed by the general assembly this year would only be advisory because he believes a constitutional amendment is needed to change the current election system.

Some supporters of instant runoff disagree with Doyle’s legal analysis and they plan to urge lawmakers to press ahead with their proposal this year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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